Carl Rogers

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Carl Rogers espoused client-centered therapy
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See also Adult learning theory (andragogy) | Behaviourism | Constructivism | Cognitivism | John Dewey | Famous learning theorists in history | Teaching library users‎ | Lev Vygotsky

Carl Ransom Rogers (1902 — 1987), American psychologist and proponent of humanistic psychotherapy, is considered to be one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. Rogers is considered a pioneer in the "human potential movement", and worked to improve client-centred psychotherapy throughout his career. Rogers was raised in a strict Pentecostal faith, but after attending a Christian conference in his twenties, began to question his beliefs. Although he attended seminary, he left after two years to pursue a master’s degree at the Teachers College of Columbia University. Rogers was introduced to measurement and testing by Edward Thorndike. In 1961, Rogers wrote On becoming a person: a therapist's view of psychotherapy and A way of being in 1980. The Carl Rogers Reader is a collection of his important published papers. The Library of Congress, in Washington, DC, holds Rogers' personal and professional papers. In an important study, Haggbloom et al (2002) found that Rogers was the sixth most eminent psychologist of the 20th century and second only to Sigmund Freud among clinicians.

  • 1902 — Born in Oak Park, Illinois
  • 1919 — Enrolled at University of Wisconsin
  • 1924 — Graduated from University of Wisconsin; enrolled at Union Theological Seminary
  • 1926 — Transferred to the Teachers College of Columbia University
  • 1931 — Completed his PhD at Columbia University
  • 1940 — Began teaching at University of Ohio
  • 1946 — Elected president of American Psychological Association (APA)
  • 1951 — Published Client-centered therapy
  • 1961 — Published On becoming a person
  • 1980 — Published A way of being
  • 1987 — Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

Rogers said that fully functioning people show an openness to experience; they live fully in each and every moment and with an absence of rigidity. They are typically flexible, adaptable and spontaneous. Rogers does not provide any specific developmental stages, but suggests that one's potential may be genetically predetermined, while self-concepts are socially-determined. The capacity of librarians to realize their full potential would be the primary concern of theorists such as Maslowe and Rogers. If they were doing research, they would likely be interested in looking at whether librarians were able to achieve a sense of self-determination and personal freedom through their work in libraries ie., qualities that reflect self-actualization.

Major contributions

Rogers 2013.png
  • Rogers espoused non-directive, client-centred psychotherapy where clients sat face-to-face with a therapist rather than on a couch.
  • Client-centered thinking transformed various approaches to helping others in psychotherapy, education, medicine and social services.
  • Rogerian ideas focus on the healthy client ("the fully functioning person") with potential for growth which stands in contrast to other ideas that focus on dealing with mental health problems.
  • He believed the most innate tendency of humans is a drive towards self-actualization (which is also called the "actualizing tendency").
  • Rogers describes therapy as a process of freeing a person and removing obstacles so that normal growth and development can proceed and the client can become independent and self-directed. His theory of the self says that human beings are self-healing, self-directed and instinctively know what would make them whole. He argued for a therapeutic model to facilitate the client's move towards wholeness.
  • Rogers applied his ideas to education and developed learner-centered teaching. He believed a person cannot teach another directly; a person can only facilitate another's learning.
  • Rogers believed his clients could find solutions to their own problems from within. This would be achieved by therapists offering unconditional positive regard and respect to their clients.
  • Rogers' nineteen (19) axioms form the basis of his theory of behaviour; Rogers aims to explain the facts regarding personality and behaviour that he had observed when conducting therapy.
  • Rogers took a positive view of human nature characterizing it as basically good and constructive. He found in his encounters with patients that empathic understanding was important and not imposing theoretical speculations about a client's state of mind.
  • Rogers had an enormous influence on psychology and education due to his emphasis on human potential.
  • His person-centered ("client-centred") therapy may well be his most important contribution. His interest in therapy is what differentiated him from Maslow despite some similarities.
  • Rogers consistently stood for an empirical evaluation of psychotherapy. He followers demonstrated a humanistic approach to conducting therapy and a scientific approach to evaluating it.
  • Rogers viewed our schools as rigid and bureaucratic, and resistant to change. Applied to education, Rogers' ideas become "student-centered" in which the students are trusted to participate in developing and to take charge of their own learning.

Quotes by Rogers

  • "When I look at the world I'm pessimistic, but when I look at people I am optimistic."
  • "The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination."
  • "Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person's ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me."
  • "The educational situation which most effectively promotes significant learning is one in which 1) threat to the self is reduced a minimum, and 2) differentiated perception of the field of experience is facilitated."
  • "People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don't find myself saying, "Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner." I don't try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds."
  • "Unconditional positive regard means that when the therapist is experiencing a positive, acceptant attitude toward whatever the client is at that moment, therapeutic movement or change is more likely. It involves the therapist's willingness for the client to be whatever feeling is going on at that moment - confusion, resentment, fear, anger, courage, love, or pride…The therapist prizes the client in a total rather than a conditional way."
  • "...teacher-centered education is based upon a false conception of education, the notion that education is a process of transmission. But this conception is wrong, Rogers insists, for "we cannot teach another person directly; we can only facilitate his learning." Like the therapist, the teacher is to become a facilitator."


  • Rogers’ client-centered therapy was reasonably effective with less severe disorders but ineffective with severe mental problems.
  • Personal empowerment has limitations with respect to learning as well as psychological adjustment. In other words, saying "What I want to be" may be very far from what is actually possible and / or realistic. Critics have said Rogers' methods are simplistic; they argue that the resources of the individual to help themselves cannot be trusted.
  • In medicine and psychiatry, the thought that a patient could know best and solve his or her own problems was not something that they could agree with. Rogers seemed to reduce the client/therapist relationship to the level of a ‘loving relationship’ and opened him up to the charge of demeaning therapy.
  • Critics have also suggested his theory of personality lacks precision and specificity with regards to concepts and terms and does not maintain a logical consistency. They charge he does not sufficiently address stages of development and does not give enough attention to the unconscious.

Key websites & video


Rogers was a prolific writer. The most complete statement of his theory is in Client-centered therapy (1951). Two collections of his essays are highly-cited, On becoming a person (1961) and A way of being (1980). The Carl Rogers Reader is a collection of important published papers. The Library of Congress, in Washington, DC, holds Rogers' personal and professional papers.

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